Chiffonnier (chest of drawers)

André Groult (1884-1967)
Paris, 1925
Shagreen, beech, mahogany, ivory
150 x 77 x 32 cm
Acquired thanks to the Fonds du Patrimoine, with the support of Michel and Hélène David-Weill, Jayne Wrightsman, Shiseido, Fabergé and the Doria gallery, 1999
Inv. 998.257.1
© ADAGP, Paris / photo: Les Arts Décoratifs

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For the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes in 1925, the Société des Artistes Décorateurs decided to create a pavilion on the theme of a French embassy. The decoration of the ambassador’s wife’s bedroom was entrusted to André Groult. Designed in a harmony of gray and pink, the room contained furniture upholstered in natural shagreen which stood out against the fan-patterned silk brocade on the walls: a rounded bed, placed on a platform and topped by a canopy; bergère armchairs; chairs; a commode; a writing desk-display cabinet; and, above all, this extraordinary chiffonnier. A chiffonnier is a tall chest of drawers that was invented in the eighteenth century for storing sewing items. Groult changed its traditional form, giving his chiffonnier an anthropomorphic shape wuth curves and counter-curves. The radiating pattern of the shagreen veneer heightens the effect of the sinuous lines and highlights the breasts and belly. The chiffonnier’s resemblance to a female body is not fortuitous; the designer explained that he wanted to “curve it to the point of indecency.” Groult had presented a shagreen bedroom suite very similar to this one at the 1921 Salon of the Société des Artistes Décorateurs. The 1921 chiffonnier has the same radiating shagreen decoration as the 1925 model, but the overall shape is more rectilinear and the curves are more restrained. This earlier model was thought to suggest that the artist had intended to create a sort of male/female pair. André Groult began his career in the 1910s and, like Paul Follot and Paul Iribe, was a critic of Art Nouveau; these decorative artists advocated a return to tradition and were particularly interested in Restoration and Louis-Philippe (1815-1848) furniture which they saw as the last authentically French styles. André Groult remained true to the enveloping, rounded forms that were characteristic of the Restoration style. After using bright colors at the start of his career, in the 1920s he covered his furniture with more precious materials such as shagreen and lacquer, in subtler tones.

É. P.

Félix Marcilhac, André Groult, décorateur-ensemblier du XXe siècle, Paris, Éditions de l’Amateur, 1997, pp. 154-155.